By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director
The importance of avoiding plastic water bottles cannot be understated; current consumption is completely avoidable and thus should be curtailed. In almost every aspect, buying water is wasteful.
The Beverage Marketing Association reports that in 2008 bottled water comprised over 28 percent of the U.S. liquid refreshment beverage market. The irony is that this product, outselling almost every carbonated soda, is something that almost everyone can get from a tap. Perhaps the easiest reason to avoid buying disposable water bottles is simply the cost: bottled water costs up to 10,000 times the amount of tap water. And of that incredibly high cost, 90% is packaging, transportation, and marketing. Only 10% of the cost is related to the water itself.
More importantly, the costs to one’s health are something to take into account. The chemicals found in the bottles are potential carcinogens as well as endocrine disruptors. Phthalates are the problem. Depending on the method of storage, high amounts of these chemicals can be found in the water inside the bottle. While the levels may fall within government limits, it is still unnecessary exposure to chemicals that have been proven to harm humans. Corroborating this, in a National Resources Defense Council study, 22% of bottle water tested contained chemical contaminants above state-mandated levels. Numerous studies help to disprove the myth that bottled water is healthier than tap water, especially in a country with robust water infrastructure like the United States.
The most pressing negative impact of bottled water is the environmental cost. Every year, consumers in the United States on average drink 21 gallons of bottled water per person, according to the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York. Accordingly, U.S. landfills contain 2 million tons of water bottles, considering only 1 in 5 ever make it to a recycle bin. Not only does it take 3 liters of water to make every liter of bottled water, but the United States uses 1.5 million barrels of oil every year for this industry, not including transportation costs.
Everyone has heard this before, but one of the simplest ways to stop using water bottles is to buy a reusable one. The personal issue many have with this is the taste of tap water. Whether it is placebo effect or a tangible difference is up for grabs; many make this excuse when choosing to buy disposable bottles.
My solution was to have a filtered water bottle station installed at school. After raising the money, I, along with the environmental club, had an Elkay EZH2O fountain installed. The logic behind this was simple: giving people a filtered water option for reusable bottles could tangibly reduce bottle water consumption intra-school. Additionally, I thought that the bottle water reduction counter on the machine would help highlight the positive effect an individual’s choice could have. Within 2 days, the water bottle reduction counter read 150. When people have an aesthetically-pleasing, filtered, free alternative, they will choose that option! I am excited to see the longer-term outcome of this project, in addition to helping other students at other schools push for this green alternative. I believe that providing tap water is not the complete solution to reducing bottle water consumption. The complete solution is convincing people that the tap water alternative is not the inferior, but superior option. The evidence sure points to that conclusion.